Thursday, April 25, 2013
7 News Features: Joining Forces
The thought of fighting in a war for your country can be frightening, but many Americans volunteer, and when they get home they face problems, not only medical but sometimes legal hurdles. But now Miami's VA hospital has come up with a way to solve both problems for the veterans. As Patrick Fraser reports, lawyer and doctors are Joining Forces.
Dr. Pat Caralis, Associate Chief of Medicine: "Behind the medical problems is the real problem, life problems. 'I am being evicted,' 'I am disabled,' 'I can't work, but nobody is helping me navigate the judicial system.'"
Dr. Pat Caralis is with the VA. JoNel Newman with the University of Miami School of Law. The doctor and lawyer have teamed up in a unique way to help South Florida's veterans.
JoNel Newman: "They may need public benefits, landlord, tenant issues. We provide service in all those areas."
Bob Barker: "One day I was walking. The next day I woke up, I couldn't move below my legs."
When Bob Barker woke up paralyzed, he headed straight to the VA for treatment, but he had another problem a doctor couldn't solve. How could he pay rent and buy food if he couldn't walk?
Bob Barker: "With the legal team from UM I was able to get food assistance, and also I got approved for the housing authority."
Third year law student Danny McDonnell was given the task of helping Bob.
Danny McDonnell: "It's difficult. It's a time management issue, but when it came down to it, his case came before classes."
At the same time, Peeyus Grover helped Bob try to recover from the paralysis caused by transverse myelitis.
Doctor: "Do you feel like you are independent at this point? You can walk around by yourself?"
The program putting together 24 lawyers from UM and 40 doctors from the VA is called HEAL, or Health Education Advocacy Legal Clinic.
Dr. Pat Caralis: "I don't know how clever it is. It's just an idea whose time has come."
Dr. Caralis happens to have a medical degree and a law degree, and says for many patients, you can't clear up their medical issues without solving their legal ones.
Dr. Pat Caralis: "Absolutely. If you can't eat, you don't have a home, your landlord has mold and doesn't fix it, and you have asthma, sure, it affects you."
Bob says having a lawyer get him the disability benefits he needs for room and board gave him peace of mind, and made it easier to just think about learning to walk again.
Bob Barker: "Oh, very much, because I knew my lawyer kinda had your back, and then I could focus more on just getting back to walking again, cause I don't want to be trapped in this chair."
Bob says he definitely will walk again, and knowing they played a part in it brings satisfaction to the young lawyers and doctors.
Danny McDonnell: "Absolutely. You go through classes and a grade's a grade, but when it comes down to it, if you can get somebody some real money and help them, that's most rewarding."
Another benefit: If you know anything about doctors and lawyers, on a bad day they butt heads. On a good day, they just agree to disagree. But being on the same page, trying to help the same veteran, has been an eye opener for all of them.
Dr. Pat Caralis: "One of the fallouts of this has been that medical doctors don't feel like they are adversaries with the legal experts at this point. They actually learn what each other's profession is all about, so it's oil and vinegar, making a great salad kind of analogy."
A great mixture for the VA, with doctors and lawyers joining forces to help America's veterans.
I'm Patrick Fraser, 7News.